Douglas County Law Library
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This Month in Legal History Archive

This page contains archived entries from the current year's "This Month in Legal History" column and links to the archived entries from previous years. The column features a different event from the history of law and jurisprudence of Douglas County, Kansas, that occurred during the month. It is published monthly in the Douglas County Law Library E-Mail Newsletter and on the This Month In Legal History page of this website. Entries will be added to this page, most recent at the bottom, following the end of the month in which they were published. Archived entries from previous years can be accessed by clicking on one of the links at the bottom of this page.



January 1859 - John Brown brings fugitive slaves into Douglas County, Kansas Territory - On January 24, 1848, gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in Alta California, the western part of the larger Mexican territory of California. Just nine days later, on February 2, 1848, the Mexican-American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. One of the results of the treaty was that the United States acquired ownership of Alta California from Mexico. When news of the discovery of gold reached the wider world, it set off the California Gold Rush, and by 1850, there was a movement to bring Alta California into the Union as the new state of California. Prior to this time, new states had been brought into the Union in pairs, one that allowed slavery and one that did not, in an attempt to keep Congress balanced over the divisive issue of slavery. This was the spirit of the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which brought the Territory of Missouri into the Union as a slave state and Maine into the Union as a free state. In 1820, there had been no free territory to bring into the Union to balance Missouri, so land belonging to Massachusetts known as the District of Maine was converted into the Territory of Maine so that it could become a free state at the same time Missouri became a slave state. In 1850, there was no land to convert into a slave territory that could be admitted to the Union as a slave state to correct the unbalancing of Congress that admitting California to the Union as a free state would cause, so there initially was talk of splitting California into two, bringing in the two sections as individual states, with a North California that would be a free state and a South California that would be a slave state, thereby keeping Congress balanced. This option did not get very far, and the movement advanced to bring California into the Union undivided as a free state. In order to overcome this potential diminishing of the influence of the slave holding powers in the nation, a series of five acts favoring the slaveholding interests in the country were proposed by Congress. They were known collectively as the Compromise of 1850. The acts were passed, and California was admitted to the Union as the 31st state on September 9, 1850. Nine days later, on September 18, 1850, President Millard Fillmore duly signed into law one of the acts comprising the Compromise of 1850, a new Fugitive Slave Act. Prior to the 1850 Act, the capture and return of slaves who had run away from bondage in the United States was covered by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793. There had been many challenges to the Act in the fifty-seven years sits its enactment, and the slaveholding interests in the nation had always felt that it was too weak and that enforcement of it had been far too feeble, especially in the northern free states. They had long sought a toughening up of their rights to retrieve fugitive slaves. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was what they had desired. The new act required that all fugitive slaves be returned to their masters. It required that Federal marshals and all other officials actively seek out, capture, and return to their owners any fugitive slave, from anywhere in the United States, regardless of the laws of the state in which the fugitive was found. Failure to do so made the official liable to a $1,000 fine. In addition, any person who aided a runaway slave in any manner was subject to imprisonment for six months in a Federal penitentiary and a $1,000 fine. This strengthening of the laws for returning fugitive slaves was a blow to abolitionist, causing many to question whether their old way of doing things, trying to convince the populace of the evils of slavery which would lead to it eventually being abolished, might not succeed, and that they might have to do more in the future than just talk and publish against it. Action might need to be taken. The stage was set when four years later, the Kansas-Nebraska Act was passed and signed into law on May 30, 1854. The Act allowed the decision as to whether Kansas Territory would be a free state or a slave state to be left up to a vote of the residents of Kansas, something that changed a stipulation included in the Missouri Compromise. Abolitionists became more enraged, and determined not to let Kansas become slave. Many came to the Territory to make Kansas free. They ran headlong into southerners who were coming into Kansas to make it slave, and violence erupted. The trouble eventually brought the abolitionist John Brown to Kansas. Although the Territory had seen significant violence, by the latter part of 1858, the Free State cause was in the ascendancy and the violence had all but ended. On December 19, 1858, Brown received a request from Jim Daniels, a slave who had been allowed to come into Kansas from his home in Vernon County, Missouri. Daniels was in Kansas ostensibly to sell brooms, but in reality, was seeking help for himself and his family. Daniels asked Brown to go into Missouri and rescue his wife and children who were about to be sold and sent away south. The next day, December 20th, Brown took around two dozen men and traveled to Vernon County. They divided into two groups and raided the homesteads of three men, James Lawrence, Isaac Larue, and David Cruise. The group led by Brown liberated five slaves from the Lawrence property, including Jim Daniels' family. The other group liberated one slave from Cruse, who resisted and was killed, and five from Larue. In addition to freeing the eleven slaves, wagons, livestock, and other supplies were taken, the wagons to transport the newly freed slaves and the livestock and other supplies to feed the liberators and the liberated. Brown, his men, and their passengers made their way back into Kansas and then headed north. Because of the Fugitive Slave Act, the escapees would not be safe anywhere short of Canada. Although it was winter, the weather had been unusually mild with frequent rain and little snow. Because of the need to avoid detection by the authorities, they traveled by night and hid by day, so despite the favorable weather, progress was slow. Most of the men who had gone into Missouri with Brown had left the party by the time they camped near the town of Garnett, Kansas Territory. A baby boy was born there to Daniels' wife, and she named her new freeborn son John Brown Daniels. They continued north along the Lane Trail, which had originally been established in 1856 as a north-south route far enough in from the Missouri Border to allow safer travel for free state immigrants into Kansas Territory. The Trail also served as a route on the Underground Railroad from Missouri, through Kansas, and on to safety in the north. The group entered Douglas County, and arrived at the homestead of Joel and Emily Grover, outside Lawrence, Kansas Territory, on January 24, 1859. The Grovers took the party in and sheltered them in their barn, thereby violating the Fugitive Slave Act themselves. This was nothing new for the couple, as they were conductors on the Underground Railroad and had taken in refugees before. After staying for four days, the party left early on January 28th, and traveled to Topeka, where they were taken into several "trusted anti-slavery homes." They then left Topeka and continuing their journey on north. The decision had been made that they were far enough along on the journey that they could travel by daylight, and they continued on to near Holton, Kansas Territory, arriving in the afternoon of January 29th. Two deputy United States Marshals discovered that they were in the area, and went to round up a force of proslavery men to come and capture the refugees. Brown got word of this, and sent a request back to Topeka for assistance. When Brown's message got to Topeka, the Free State men rallied there and prepared for the journey north to help. As they needed to move in secret so that the government officials in town would not get wind of it, their preparations took quite some time. They eventually set out, traveling all night, and arrived at Brown's position in the afternoon of January 31st. They found Brown readying the wagon. When asked what he intended to do, he responded "Cross the creek and move north," … there is no use to talk of turning aside. Those who are afraid may go back, … The Lord has marked out a path for me and I intend to follow it. We are ready to move." Forty-five proslavery men had responded to the Marshals' call and were entrenched on the north bank of Straight Creek, facing south at a place know as Fuller's Crossing, the place where Brown intended to cross the creek. The proslavery men were no more than 100 yards from where the old abolitionist stood next to the wagon loaded with the freedom seekers. Brown began to drive the wagon toward the creek, and all of the twenty-one Free State men fell in alongside. One volley of fire from the entrenched proslavery men could have wiped out the entire Free State force, including Brown, but as the wagon approached the crossing, everyone held their fire. As the first Free State man reached the ford, a commotion broke out across the creek. First one, and then several, proslavery men jumped up and ran to their horses, which were tied up not far away. Within seconds, the entire proslavery force was in "a wild panic." There was a mad rush for the horses, with men jumping into their saddles, spurring their mounts, and riding off as fast as they could make their animals go. One or two horses were spooked by the panic, and ran off with their would-be riders holding onto their tails while being drug across the prairie by the frightened animals. The Free State men crossed the creek without a shot ever being fired and found four men on the other side. They were asked, "Do you surrender?" They replied, "Yes, you may take us, …. We simply wanted to show you that there were some men…who were not afraid of you." This action became known as "The Battle of the Spurs," because they were the only weapons employed by the proslavery men. Brown took his charges into Nebraska, and helped them cross the Missouri River. He escorted them across Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and on to Detroit, Michigan, where he watched them cross the Detroit River to freedom in Canada.(From: Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, Wikipedia website; California, Wikipedia website; Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, Wikipedia website; Fugitive Slave Act of 1793, Wikipedia website; Bushwhacker Museum Podcast Transcript, Kansas Humanities Council website; Kansas Historical Collections - The Battle of the Spurs and John Brown's Exit from Kansas, Kansas Historical Society website; and, Lane's Trail and the Underground Railway, Kansas Heritage Group website. Published 1/14.)  Back to top of page

February 14, 1889 - Christian Long disappears before breakfast - Christian Long was born on December 21, 1840, in Pennsylvania. He was later referred to as being a "German," so he must have been born into a German speaking family there. Sometime later he married a woman named Elizabeth, who was born June 28, 1845(1), in the German state of Hesse-Kassel. The couple was living in Illinois when their first child, Jerome, was born around 1865. Jerome was followed by Amos and Mary, born around 1867 and 1868, respectively. Sometime before Edward(2) was born in October of 1869, the family had relocated to Kansas and was living on a farm in Willow Springs Township in Douglas County, about seven miles west of Baldwin City. Christian and Elizabeth became active members of the mostly German community there, and they were founding members of the Willow Springs Evangelical Church(3) when it opened in 1872. By 1873, Long owned 80 acres about a mile north of the Franklin County line. The family continued to grow, with Adam being born around 1874, followed by Charles around 1875, John around 1876, Susan around 1877, Henry around 1881, and finally Christian around 1884. With such a large family to support, Long must have worked very hard on his farm. His older children undoubtedly helped out, but supporting such a large family could not have been easy. By 1885, Long had increased his land holdings to 160 acres, and was reported to have had his farm heavily mortgaged, not an unusual condition for farmers then or now. A farmer's life was always hard, but Long's burden increased significantly on August 7, 1887, when Elizabeth died, leaving him with ten children, seven under the age of 18. By the winter of 1888/89, Long was reported to have been having financial troubles, and was very worried about them. He may have been in danger of having the bank foreclose on his farm, which would have been a humiliating disaster. The grief he felt for his late wife would likely have made his hardships even more difficult to face. On the morning of Thursday, February 14, 1889, Long arose before the rest of his family and left the house. He did not come in when breakfast was called, and the children became concerned when he could not be located around the farmstead. A wider search was instituted, but nothing was found by the time it was halted that evening on account of darkness. The search was resumed again on Friday morning, but proved equally as fruitless as the one the day before had been. The searchers began again on Saturday morning, and sometime towards evening they came across an unused well on Long's farm. They investigated its depths, and finally located Long, dead at the bottom of the well. They retrieved his body, and one of them sent a telegram to Dr. Horton, the coroner, who lived in Lawrence, approximately twenty miles northeast of Long's farm. He called an inquest, which was held on the afternoon of Monday the 18th. After examining the body and hearing the testimony of witnesses, the jury found that Long had taken his own life by jumping into the well in a fit of temporary insanity. He was buried in the Willow Springs Evangelical Cemetery(4), alongside his wife Elizabeth. In 1900, the youngest son Christian was living with his uncle and aunt in Willow Springs Township, and there are indications that Amos, John, and Susan were living elsewhere in Kansas, but what eventually happened to the children that Long left behind is not known. One wonders if the date of Long's suicide is significant, February 14th, Valentine's Day. By the latter part of the 19th Century, it had become an important holiday in the United States, witnessed by the availability of mass-produced printed valentines since before the Civil War, and so was a part of American culture. With all the troubles Long was experiencing, the advent of a holiday with such a strong reminder of the loved one he had lost just eighteen months earlier may very well have sent him over the edge on that fateful day.

(1) According to her tombstone, she was 42 years, 1 month, and 10 days old when she died on August 7, 1887. Calculating back from that date results in a birth date of June 28, 1845.

(2) His name appears as Edwin in the 1870 census.

(3) Now known as the Worden United Methodist Church.

(4) Now known as the Worden Cemetery.

(From: Complete Tombstone Census of Douglas County, Kansas, Volume 2, by B. Jean Snedeger, Douglas County Genealogical Society, [Lawrence, Kansas], 1989, pp. 304 and 308; The Lawrence Gazette, v. 7, no. 338 (February 21, 1889), p. 2; 1870 U.S. Census, Willow Springs Township, Douglas County, Kansas, 6/21/1870; Landgraviate of Hesse-Kassel, Wikipedia website; Worden United Methodist Church, Worden United Methodist Church website; 1880 U.S. Census, Willow Springs Township, Douglas County, Kansas, 6/3/1880; Atlas of Douglas County Kansas, F.W. Beers and Co., New York, 1873, p. 23; Decennial census, Kansas 1885, Willow Springs Township, March 1885; The Lawrence Weekly Journal, v. 5, no. 8 (February 21, 1889) p. 3; Wichita Eagle, v. 10, no. 82 (February 20, 1889) p. 1; 1900 U.S. Census, Willow Springs Township, Douglas County, Kansas, 6/8/1900; and, Valentine's Day, Wikipedia website. Published 2/14.)  Back to top of page

March 14, 1894 - Fred Hill kills Patrick Henry Geelan over a White Cap letter - Patrick Henry Geelan was born on March 15, 1833, in Cavan County, Ulster, Ireland. He taught school there, before deciding to emigrate to the United States. Exactly when he left Ireland and came to America is not known, but in 1855, he arrived in Big Springs, a small community on the Oregon Trail in Lecompton Township, Douglas County, Kansas Territory, located about halfway between Lawrence and Topeka not far from the Shawnee County line. Because of his experience as a teacher in Ireland, when the Greenwood Valley School was built approximately 2 miles northeast of Big Springs, Geelan went to teach there. It is not known how long he taught at the school, but he eventually opened a store in Big Springs. On January 10, 1860, he married Sarah Salome Custard in Grover, a small community about 1 miles northeast of Greenwood Valley School, and 4 miles northwest of the town of Lecompton. Sarah, who apparently went by her middle name Salome, was born April 24, 1833, in Crawford County, Pennsylvania, the daughter of Robert Ward Custead(1) and Lydia O. Custead, nee Sitler. Patrick and Salome began a family, and their first child, a son named William, was born around 1862. Sometime during the early years of the Civil War, Geelan and other men from the Big Springs area organized an informal militia. The militiamen went to Lawrence on August 22, 1863, the day after William Clarke Quantrill and 400 of his Confederate guerillas sacked and burned the town. Then on August 31, 1863, possibly as a result of the raid on Lawrence, the Big Springs militia was formally organized as Company F of the Second Regiment of the Kansas State Militia, and Geelan was mustered in as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Company. Company F was then headquartered at Big Springs. The Geelan family grew again when a second son, Charles, was born to the couple in 1864. Geelan's Regiment was called into service that year to help counter the army under the command of Confederate general Sterling Price, who was leading an invasion of Missouri. Price was attempting to cross into Kansas and wreak havoc there. Geelan led his men in the Battle of the Big Blue(2) on October 22, 1864, in Jackson County, Missouri, when the Regiment, aided by the Topeka Battery of Artillery, repelled the Confederate forces under Price. The Confederates were defeated, and moved south into Kansas, eventually being mauled so badly in the Battle of Mine Creek that Price called off the invasion and retreated back to Arkansas. After the War, Geelan resumed his civilian activities. Another son, Daniel, was born around 1867. In addition to his store in Big Springs, Geelan must have owned land and farmed, as that is his occupation as recorded in the 1870 U.S. Census for Lecompton Township, taken on July 30th. Not long after the census was taken, a daughter, Anna, was born. She lived only a year, and died on August 8, 1871. She was buried in St. Peter's Cemetery near Big Springs(3). In spite of the tragedy, the Geelan's continued to have children, with a daughter, Maggie, being born on May 17, 1873, and finally Nettie(4), on March 26, 1876. Sometime in the early 1880s, Geelan was made deputy postmaster of Big Springs under postmaster Thomas S. Custard(5). One of Geelan's neighbors was a man named Daniel Mark Hill(6), who was known to the locals as Mark Hill. He was the head of a family later described as a "large, wealthy and influential element of the Big Springs population." Hill opposed Geelan's appointment as deputy postmaster, and a quarrel between the Geelans and the Hills began over this. Just what the trouble was, and why Hill opposed Geelan's appointment as deputy postmaster, is not clear, but it may have been rooted in partisan politics. There is evidence that the two men belonged to different political parties. Hill was a Republican, and there is strong evidence that Geelan was a Democrat. When Grover Cleveland took office in 1885 and became the first Democrat to hold the office of President of the United States since Andrew Johnson left office in 1869, Custard was removed as postmaster at Big Springs and Geelan was appointed in his place. At that time, postmaster positions were usually awarded as patronage by the party in power to loyal and trusted party members, so since Cleveland was a Democrat, there is all likelihood that Geelan was also a Democrat, and was awarded the postmaster position as patronage. Mark Hill might initially have been upset when a Democrat was made deputy postmaster under Thomas S. Custard, himself probably a Republican, but would have become even more incensed when that same Democrat later supplanted Custard as postmaster of Big Springs. This is borne out by a later report that "the strife [between Geelan and Hill] grew apace" when Geelan was appointed postmaster. Fredrick "Fred" Hill was one of Mark Hill's seven children. He was later described as "a peaceable boy who never did seek trouble, but who is given to spells or intervals of insanity. During these times he has been known to become violent and to tear his clothes. He has been considered so dangerous when these spells were upon him that no one dared to go near him." In 1887, Fred Hill and another man were charged with committing a disturbance at a school house meeting. Geelan was called as a witness at a grand jury investigation of the disturbance, and testified under protest. The case went to trial, but Geelan was not called as a witness. Fred Hill and the other man were acquitted. It is not known if his having testified before the grand jury improved or worsened the relationship between the two families, but whatever trouble Geelan was having with Hill, it was likely overshadowed by events in his personal life. On March 12, 1888, Geelan's wife Salome died, and was buried next to Anna in St. Peter's Cemetery. Then, just eight months later, Benjamin Harrison defeated Cleveland in the November presidential election. When Harrison, a Republican, took office in 1889, Geelan lost his position as postmaster, and was replaced by the former postmaster, Thomas S. Custard. On March 22, 1890, Geelan filed for a pension from the Unites States Government for his service during the Civil War with Company F. There is an indication on the record of the filing that he may have had some physical disability. Geelan apparently stayed on as an employee of the post office during Harrison's four year term, as a later report indicated that throughout the summer and fall of 1892, "the Hills frequently asked Assistant Postmaster Caldwell to recommend Geelan's removal from the post office." This unsuccessful attempt by the Hill family to get Geelan dismissed from his job would have done nothing to lessen the animosity between the two families. In the November 1892 election, Cleveland defeated Harrison, and when he took office again as President in 1893, Geelan was reappointed postmaster of Big Springs. This was likely to have aggravated the trouble between the two families even more. In early March of 1894, Geelan received an anonymous letter dated March 2, 1894. At the head of the letter were a skull and crossbones, followed by "We beg leave to inform you that your days are limited to a small number in that town. You will be given ten days to leave it. If you are there at that time you will be dealt with according to the laws of this organization. We look at this as doing the community in which you live a favor, as you are a rogue and a hard case." It ended with "This and last," and was signed "White Caps." Geelan had received a White Cap letter. The White Caps were participants in a vigilante movement that was first reported in Indiana, and that spread to many parts of the country through the latter part of the 19th Century. Local men would organize into secret committees that would come together periodically to whip or otherwise punished those they accused of being "wife beaters, drunkards, poor providers, immoral couples and individuals, lazy and shiftless men, and petty neighborhood thieves." Occasionally, the punishment resulted in the death of the target. They were, in effect, self-appointed moral police. The White Caps would frequently warn their intended targets with letters, telling them to get out of town, "or else," just as the one that Geelan received had done. They would wear masks or other disguised when they carried out their threats, and frequently white hoods or other white head coverings, thus the origin on their name. The White Caps were not part of the Ku Klux Klan, and attacked anyone they believed to be morally degenerate, white or black(7). Their actions came to be known as "whitecapping," and someone who was the recipient of their attention, like Geelan, was said to have been "whitecapped." There were undoubtedly individuals who had no connection to the movement that took advantage of its notoriety to send poison pen letters to people they did not like under the guise of being from the local White Caps. Whether this was the case with the letter that Geelan received is not known. Regardless of the source, Geelan believed that the White Cap letter he had received had been written by Fred Hill. The reason for Geelan believing that Fred was the author of the letter is unclear. Fred was later quoted as saying that he "took no part in the controversy" between the two families, but subsequent events cast serious doubt on this assertion. Early in the morning of March 14, 1894, Fred Hill came to Geelan's store in Big Springs. In front of several witnesses, Geelan accused Hill of having written the White Cap letter. Hill supposedly left the store in an angry mood and walked home. When he arrived, he went in, took up his Winchester rifle, and began to leave. His mother begged him not to go back to the store, but he left the house, telling his mother that he was taking the rifle to the blacksmith shop to get it repaired. Instead, he went straight back to Geelan's store, arriving there about 9:30 a.m. Hill's mother must not have believed him, as she followed after him at a distance and was a witness to what happened subsequently. Geelan's son William was in his father's store, sitting at the stove with a man named William Murphy. William Geelan looked out the window and saw Hill approaching. He told his father that Hill was coming with a gun. Geelan got a revolver, backed up to the corner of the store occupied by the post office furniture, and waited for Hill. When he arrived, Hill stepped up on the store's front porch, glanced through the glass in the door into the shop, and then moved to the window to the right of the door. Hill leveled the rifle at Geelan, reportedly shouted "You damned son of a bitch, maybe you want to settle this now," and then fired. Almost simultaneously, Geelan fired his pistol at Hill. Geelan's shot hit the mail box next to where Hill was standing, but the bullet from Hill's rifle went through Geelan's head, killing him instantly. Hill turned and crossed over to the blacksmith shop. He saw Bob Clymer, a friend of his, and asked him to saddle his horse and bring it to him down the street. Clymer did as he was asked. It was reported that as Clymer passed Geelan's store, William called out to him for assistance, but he continued on to bring the horse to Hill. He mounted the horse and rode off, heading directly to Lawrence. He arrived there about 2:00 p.m., and went straight to his brother-in-law, Frank McHale, "the rising young criminal lawyer." McHale advised Hill to turn himself in to the authorities, which he promptly did. As soon as William had determined that his father was dead and that he could do nothing for him, he hopped on a horse and himself rode rapidly to Lawrence. He went to the authorities there and filed a complaint against Hill for the first degree murder of his father. Hill was put in jail pending the coroner's inquest. McHale, Hill's lawyer, claimed that Hill was out hunting, and when he came into Big Springs, he met Geelan, who had picked a fight with him, requiring Hill to shoot in self-defense. Deputy Sheriff Pryor was sent to Geelan's store to collect evidence. He returned to Lawrence around 11:00 p.m. with Clymer, who had been arrested by the local constable for helping Hill leave town after the shooting. On the day after the shooting, March 15th, "Squire" Stone impaneled a coroner's jury that found that "Patrick H. Geelan came to his death by a gunshot wound from a rifle in the hands of Fred Hill." Soon after their verdict, Justice of the Peace John Charlton arraigned Hill without bail on a charge of first degree murder in the death of Geelan. There was speculation that his mother might have to testify, as she had been a witness to the shooting. Mark Hill came into town later in the day, but when asked about Fred, all he would say was that "his son had at times betrayed symptoms of insanity." A reporter from the Lawrence Gazette visited Hill in jail, reporting that when he arrived, Hill had "just finished a dainty breakfast sent in to him by his relatives." The reporter continued that Hill "is a handsome, intelligent looking, smooth-faced youth of 21, slight [illegible], and in appearance the least like a murderer, very fond of music and a good performer on the violin." Geelan was a popular man, and the authorities had heard talk that some citizens might take the law into their own hands and try to lynch Hill, so being concerned for his safety, on March 16th they temporarily transferred him to the jail in Ottawa, Kansas, approximately 25 miles south of Lawrence. Geelan was buried that same day, next to his wife in St. Peter's Cemetery. Hill was returned to town on March 18th, and at about 10:40 a.m. on March 22nd, was brought "between two officers" before Justice Charlton for a preliminary hearing. "He was closely handcuffed and was weeping hysterically. He kept the two officers busy for a time to prevent him from doing himself harm after his handcuffs were removed, but soon quieted down and with bowed head seemed totally oblivious of his surroundings." Fred Hill's murder case was finally called for trial in front of District Court Judge Alfred Washburn Benson on May 7, 1894. The prosecution was to be conducted by County Attorney Samuel Douglas Bishop and A.C. Mitchel, and the defense by George J. Baker and Hill's brother-in-law Frank McHale. The trial was continued for two days, and set to start on the 9th. In the trial, the prosecution contended that Hill's actions that day showed he intended to kill Geelan, and so had committed first degree murder. They rested on the 11th, and the defense began their case on the 12th. They contended that Hill's parentage, surroundings, education, and good character would be shown. He had been in poor health the preceding few years and was under treatment for nervous troubles. Hill supposedly visited the post office in Big Springs many times each day, and that he would frequently play his violin there. In the defense's version of the events on the day of the shooting, Geelan had threatened Hill with the penitentiary over the White Cap letter. After Hill had left Geelan's store and gone home, he got his rifle, which he was known to carry around, and was walking to a field where his father was working(8). He happened to pass Geelan's store on the way, and as he did, he saw a flash or heard a loud report, he was not sure which. Hill turned and saw that his life was threatened by the revolver Geelan was pointing at him. He feared for his life and fired the fatal shot in self-defense. He immediately came to Lawrence to turn himself in to the authorities as any innocent man would do. The case went to the jury about 11:30 a.m. on May 17th. After eight hours of deliberation, they came back at 7:30 p.m. with a verdict of guilty of second degree manslaughter. It is not known if Hill's family being a "large, wealthy and influential element of the Big Springs population" or because he had "betrayed symptoms of insanity" had any influence on him being convicted of a much lesser charge than first-degree murder. The concern for Hill's safety returned, and he was taken to the Wyandotte County, Kansas, jail on the 19th for safekeeping. In an article in the Kansas City Times, for Sunday, May 20, 1894, Hill, mistakenly referred to in the newspaper as the "Blue Springs Murderer," was reportedly brought there because "a plot to lynch the prisoner was discovered." He had been allowed to bring his violin along, but the jailer would not let him have it with him in his cell. He "pleaded for permission to retain the violin, saying that he would give the boys inside a sacred concert today." The jailer refused his request. An article in The Daily World, published in Lawrence, reported that "there never was the slightest danger of lynching." Hill was returned to Lawrence on Monday the 21st, and Judge Benson sentenced him to four years and six months at hard labor in the Kansas State Penitentiary. He could have been sentenced to up to five years, but it was reported that "the sentence was lightened on account of the former good character of the prisoner and his youth." Hill went off to prison. Geelan's son William married Mamie Schott, remained in Douglas County, and worked for the railroad. Charles stayed in Douglas County and fell on hard times in his old age, first living with his sister Nettie and her husband, and then as a resident at the Douglas County Poor Farm. He was there when the main residence building was destroyed by fire on April 13, 1944. Although eight of the thirty-four elderly residents died in the blaze, Charles managed to escape, but lived for only one year more. Daniel was appointed postmaster of Big Springs after his father's death, and served until 1898. He married a woman named Mary, eventually moving to Kansas City, Kansas, and worked there as a carpenter. Maggie married Oliver W. Chambers, and moved with him to his family farm in Wilson County Kansas. Nettie married August Noe, also a farmer, and remained in Douglas County. Fred Hill served out his prison term and then left Kansas, joining the estimated 100,000 people who went to the Klondike during the 1896-1899 gold rush to Canada's Yukon Territory. What success he had there or what his eventual fate was is unknown.

(1) Apparently, the parents changed the family name from Custead for their offspring, as all of their seven children had Custard as their last name.

(2) Also known as the Battle of Byram's Ford, it was part of the larger Battle of Westport.

(3) There are two headstones in the Geelan family plot in St. Peter's Cemetery with the names of young girls who died in 1871. One is inscribed Anna, dau. of P.H. & S.S. Geelan, died August 13, 1871, 1 yr. old. It is broken in two pieces and is lying on the ground against the headstone for Charles. The other one is inscribed Annie, 1869-1871, is of higher quality, is intact, and is upright. Is it possible that the Geelans would have had two daughters with so similar names, one born in 1869 who died in 1871, and the other who was one year old when she also died in 1871? It is possible, as they might have been twins, but the different nature and condition of the two headstones makes this unlikely. What is likely is that there was only one daughter, known variously as Anna and Annie, who was born in 1869. She died in 1871 before her second birthday, and her headstone was inscribed "Anna." At some time later, perhaps when her mother died, a replacement headstone was erected with "Annie" inscribed on it, and the earlier one was laid alongside it. Sometime after Charles' death, the broken one would have been moved to its current location.

(4) No record has been found that names Patrick and Salome's second daughter as Nettie, but it can be deduced by utilizing the 1940 U.S. Census for Lecompton Township. In it, a woman named Nettie M. Noe is recorded as the wife of August Noe. Residing in the same household is a man named Charles H. Geelan, whose age is listed as 76 and his relationship to the head of the household, August Noe, is brother-in-law. Figuring backward, a 76 year old man in 1940 would have been born around 1864, the same as was Patrick and Salome's son Charles. It is almost a 100 per cent certainty that the Charles Geelan, who was the right age and living in the same township as Patrick and Salome had been, is their son. Since August Noe was recorded as Charles' brother-in-law, then August's wife Nettie is Charles' sister, and so was Patrick and Salome's daughter.

(5) There is no indication whether Thomas S. Custard and Geelan's wife Salome, whose maiden name was also Custard, were related.

(6) Mark Hill was born on August 4, 1836, in Bedford County, Pennsylvania. He moved to Iowa in 1862, and first came to Kansas in 1863, staying only a few months before going back to Iowa. In 1867 he came back to Kansas, settling his family in Anderson County. In 1869, they moved to Lecompton Township, where he began farming. In 1879, he moved to Jefferson County, Kansas, and worked as a foreman on a large farm there. In 1883, he moved back to Lecompton Township and bought farm land there.

(7) As time passed and the movement spread to the south, it became more like the Klan, targeting blacks for "punishment." The societies gradually died out, but remained active in some parts of the country well into the first decade of the 20th Century.

(8) This differs from the version of the story that Hill's lawyer told immediately after the shooting, when he said that Hill had his rifle that day because he had been out hunting.

(From: Patrick Henry Geelan, Ancestry.com website; Big Springs, Bald Eagle, v. 19, no. 3 (Fall 1993), pp. 2-4; Sarah Salome/Custard, FamilySearch website; Patrick Henry Geelan, MyTrees.com website; Muster Roll, Company F, Second Regiment, Kansas State Militia, Kansas Muster rolls, Kansas State Militia, Kansas. Adjutant General's Office, volume 11, p. 91 (98), Kansas Memory website; Battle of the Blue, Kansas Memory website; Patrick H. Geelan, 2nd Lieutenant, Company F (Big Springs), Second Regiment of the Kansas State Militia, as of 10 October, 1864, Roster, The Second Kansas State Militia and the Battle of the Blue website; Geelan, Patrick H., 1870 U.S. Census, Lecompton, Douglas County, Kansas, 7/30/1870; Complete Tombstone Census of Douglas County, Kansas, Volume 2, by B. Jean Snedeger, Douglas County Genealogical Society, [Lawrence, Kansas], 1989, pp. 105, 375, and 410; Noe, August G., 1940 U.S. Census, Lecompton, Douglas County, Kansas, 4/18/1940; Nettie M. Noe, Find A Grave website; Oliver W. Chambers, History of Neosho and Wilson Counties, Kansas, Monitor Printing Co., Fort Scott, Kansas, 1902, pp. 520-521; The Lawrence Gazette, v. 12, no. 603 (March 22, 1894), pp. 1-2 (in with March 15 issue); Judge John Charlton, Portrait and Biographical Record of Leavenworth, Douglas and Franklin Counties, Kansas, Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1899, pp. 192-193; David Mark Hill, Portrait and Biographical Record of Leavenworth, Douglas and Franklin Counties, Kansas, Chapman Publishing Company, Chicago, 1899, pp. 249-250; Patrick H Geelan, "United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934", Familysearch website; A Primitive Method of Enforcing the Law: Vigilantism as a Response to Bank Crimes in Indiana, 1925-1933, Indiana Magazine of History, No. 102 (September 2006), pp 187-219; Whitecapping, Wikipedia website; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 13 (March 15, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 17 (March 20, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 14 (March 16, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 59 (May 8, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 64 (May 13, 1894), p. 4; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 68 (May 18, 1894), p. 5; Fred Hill, the Blue Springs Murderer, brought here for safety, Kansas Genealogy Trails website; The Daily World, v. 3, no. 71 (May 22, 1894), p. 4; The Lawrence Gazette, v. 12, no. 612 (May 24, 1894), p. 2; William G. Geelan, Familysearch website; Lawrence Journal-World, v.. 88, no. 89 (April 13, 1944), p.1; and, Geelan, Daniel A., 1910 U.S. Census, Wyandotte County, Kansas, 4/28/1910. Published 3/14.)  Back to top of page

April 21, 1970 - Governor Robert Docking declares a dusk to dawn curfew for Lawrence, Kansas - The spring of 1970 was a turbulent time for the United States. For several years there had been significant racial and student unrest across the nation, and it was increasing. Lawrence, Kansas, had seen its share of trouble the previous few years, but it was becoming a flashpoint for the unrest that spring. There had been a number of incidents involving black and white students in and around Lawrence High School in March and April, and supporters of the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements were organizing and taking action on the University of Kansas campus. On April 15th, a large fight broke out in the high school cafeteria between black and white students. Police were called, and after the fight was broken up, another incident occurred outside a classroom. A number of students received minor injuries in the two altercations. Late that night, the Gambles Department Store in downtown Lawrence was totally destroyed by fire. Investigators discovered evidence that led them to believe the blaze had been started with a firebomb. Other incidents occurred in the days following the Gamble's fire, and tensions increased. At 9:13 in the evening of April 20th, three firebombs were tossed through a window of the Unified School District 497 Administration Center located just south of the high school. Only one of the three ignited, and the fire was put out by someone using a fire extinguisher. It caused only minor damage. A fire truck responding to the call reportedly had shots fired at it. At around 10:30 p.m., someone smelled smoke on the 5th floor of the Kansas Memorial Union, the student union at the University. Ten minutes later, the area was engulfed in flames. The fire spread quickly, and around 11:00 p.m. it broke through the roof in the west part of the building. Firefighters, aided by around one hundred student volunteers, battled the blaze. Although a large portion of the flaming roof collapsed, the fire was eventually brought under control in the early morning hours of April 21st, and the majority of the building was saved. Another fire was extinguished in a lumber yard, and at least three businesses had windows broken overnight. At around 9:00 a.m., violence broke out during a confrontation between a reported 150 black individuals and 20 Lawrence Police officers at the school district administration building, site of the attempted firebombing the previous evening. Local officials worried that the situation was getting out of control. County Attorney Daniel Young and Lawrence Mayor Don Metzler made a request to Kansas Governor Robert Docking to declare a state of "public crisis or emergency" for the town and issue an executive proclamation for a curfew. The Governor complied, and a 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew was ordered to go into effect on the 21st for all persons in the city and within three miles of the city limits. In addition, 50 to 60 highway patrolmen were standing by ready to move in immediately in case of further trouble. National Guard troops were also called up and put on notice of possible deployment. During the hours of the curfew, all stores and shops were to be closed, and the only persons allowed to be out were those conducting business "of an emergency or essential nature." No ammunition, guns, explosives, or alcohol of any kind were to be sold, and gasoline sales were restricted to that put directly into the tanks of motor vehicles. Before the curfew went into effect, a number of windows were broken out at the high school, and dynamite was stolen from a constructions site. Arrests were made in both incidents. Immediately after the curfew began at 7:00 p.m., a disturbance broke out just north of the KU Campus at the Rock Chalk Cafe, in which police cars were pelted with bricks and rocks and two people were arrested. Firefighters responded to a fire in an unoccupied building known as the "White House" near campus. They extinguished the fire, but were soon called back as another fire had been set. While on that run, at about 8:53, a fire truck was hit by four bullets. No one was injured. The authorities called in several squads of National Guard troops to search the area around campus, but their search failed to locate a potential sniper. A bonfire was set in an intersection and there were unconfirmed reports of youths riding up and down streets throwing firebombs. Several additional sniping incidents were reported, with one being confirmed. The old Lincoln School building in north Lawrence, which was privately owned and used as a factory, was destroyed by an arson fire overnight. By the time the curfew ended at 6:00 a.m. that April 22nd, twelve people had been arrested for violating it, and over fifty bomb threats had been received. The night's tumult had been illuminated by a full moon shining overhead. When the high school convened later that morning, school officials had to decide whether to go ahead that day with plans to participate in a new national environmental awareness event called Earth Day. Students were scheduled to be released from class and fan out across the town to pick up loose trash and bring it back to the school parking lot for collection by the city's sanitation department. Despite all the troubles occurring in town, the decision was made to go ahead with the clean-up, and students were released from class. After everyone returned to the school, a rally was held to celebrate having cleaned up the town by collecting a huge pile of trash. Because of the troubles the night before, the local authorities decided that another curfew was needed and contacted Governor Docking. He declared a second night of curfew effective from 8:00 p.m. on the 22nd to 6:00 a.m. on the 23rd. Shortly after the curfew went into effect, a fire destroyed a garage not far from the KU campus, and there was a third arson attempt on the "White House." Two small fires were extinguished on the KU campus, one in a trash dumpster and one in the Military Science Building. Two minor fires were reported at residences in town, including one that was firebombed, and a firebomb was thrown at a business downtown. An officer with the KU Police Department reported he was fired on at 8:56 p.m. Forty-five people were arrested overnight, including two for possession of Molotov Cocktails(1). The Governor declared a third night of curfew from 10:00 p.m. on the 23rd to 6:00 a.m. on the 24th. The prohibition on firearms and explosives was to continue past 6:00 a.m. Shortly after 9:00 p.m., a firebomb was thrown at a building housing a beverage business, and a few minutes later, another one was thrown through the window of an electric supply company. The owner of the electric supply company, who was on the premises to protect his property, fired five shots from a shotgun and six shots from a pistol at people running away down the alley. That fire caused significant damage. A few minutes after the electric supply company bombing, there was another arson attempt at a janitorial supply company. A little after midnight, there was a second firebombing at one of the houses firebombed the night before. Three other firebombings were reported overnight. Fifteen people were arrested for curfew violation. The authorities decided not to ask Governor Docking for a curfew for the night of April 24th-25th, but to remain vigilant and monitor the situation to see if things would calm down. They did, mostly, and the restrictions on gasoline, explosives, and firearms ended on the 27th. Things remained tense but calm until the nationwide uproar over the May 4, 1970, killing of four young people by Ohio National Guard troops on the campus of Kent State University. There was a major reaction from students at KU which caused concern that violence would erupt again. Tensions remained high, and boiled over again in July when two young men were killed by Lawrence Police officers. Rick "Tiger" Dowdell, a 19 year-old Lawrence native, was shot the evening of July 16, 1970, after allegedly firing on two police officers who had followed and stopped his car. Many members of the Black community in Lawrence disputed the police version, and attacks on police increased, with an office being seriously wounded in a gun battle on the 18th. On the night of Monday, July 20th, a large contingent of police responded to reports that a fire truck had been fired upon near the KU campus. They released tear gas and a number of shots were fired. Nick Rice, a white 18-year-old Kansas University student, was hit and killed. On the 22nd, an all-white coroner's jury exonerated the officer who killed Rick Dowdell of any wrongdoing, but many locals did not believe the findings. Tensions increased, and Governor Docking sent in a number of Highway Patrol officers to help maintain the peace. The Lawrence Police did not ask for this to be done, and were offended by the implication that they were not capable of handling the situation by themselves. In August, an investigating team from the President's Commission on Campus Unrest found that the Lawrence Police Department had fired M-1 rifles and shotguns "at a dangerous level" in the July 20, 1970, incident in which Nick Rice was killed. Tensions remained high the remainder of the summer, but lessened as fall approached. They rose again when Summerfield Hall on the KU Campus was bombed on December 11th, but calmed down again as the town's most violent year in over a hundred years came to an end.

(1) Molotov Cocktails are incendiary devices made using a glass bottle filled with gasoline or other highly flammable liquid with a strip of cloth inserted into the open neck. The cloth is set afire and the bottle is thrown. When it hits a solid object, the bottle shatters, the liquid sprays around, and as it does the burning cloth sets it afire. Depending on the liquid used, the results can be anywhere from a fireball to a relatively long burning fire. They proved to be an especially effective weapon for partisan and other guerilla fighters to use against tanks and other armored vehicles. The term was coined by the Finns during the November 1939-March 1940 "Winter War" between Finland and the Soviet Union as an insult to the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov for his assertions that Soviet bombing missions over Finland were actually airborne humanitarian food deliveries being made to their starving neighbors.

(From: Lawrence Daily Journal-World, v. 112, no. 90 (April 15, 1970), pp. 1, 32; Lawrence Daily Journal-World, v. 112, no. 91 (April 16, 1970), pp. 1, 20; Lawrence Daily Journal-World, v. 112, no. 92 (April 17, 1970), pp. 1, 20; Lawrence Daily Journal-World, v. 112, no. 95 (April 21, 1970), pp. 1-3, 10; Lawrence Daily Journal-World, v. 112, no. 96 (April 22, 1970), pp. 1-3, 14; Molotov cocktail, Wikipedia website; Lawrence Daily Journal-World, v. 112, no. 97 (April 23, 1970), pp. 1, 2, 10; Lawrence Daily Journal-World, v. 112, no. 98 (April 24, 1970), pp. 1, 9; Lawrence Daily Journal-World, v. 112, no. 100 (April 27, 1970), p. 1; This is America?: the Sixties in Lawrence, Kansas, by Rusty Monhollon. Palgrave, 2002; and, personal recollections of the Author. Published 4/14.)  Back to top of page

May 21, 1856 - Territorial "Gag Law" violently enforced on two Lawrence, Kansas Territory, newspapers - The Kansas-Nebraska Act was signed into law on May 30, 1854, and opened up the remaining unorganized land of the Louisiana Purchase for white settlement. In the aftermath of the signing, supporters and opponents of slavery came into Kansas Territory to decide if it would be a slave state or a free state when it was admitted to the Union. Trouble soon began between the two sides, which led to violence. Newspapers were founded by both Free State and proslavery partisans to help support their separate causes. The first Free State newspaper was the Herald of Freedom. It was founded in Lawrence, Kansas Territory, by G.W. Brown, and began publishing on October 21, 1854. Lawrence, which had itself been founded earlier that month, was the headquarters of the Free State movement in the territory, and had quickly became an object of hatred and derision to proslavery men. The next Free State newspaper in the territory was the Kansas Free State, founded by R.G. Elliott and Josiah Miller. It was also located in Lawrence, and began publishing on January 3, 1855. Two other Free State newspapers began publishing in Lawrence in 1855, the Kansas Tribune, which began on January 10th, and the Kansas Daily Tribune, which began on July 14th. Both were founded by John and Joseph Speer. It appears that the Kansas Tribune ceased publication on October 24, 1855. The Kansas Daily Tribune eventually moved publication to Topeka, but when that occurred is unclear. What is clear is that there were two Free State newspapers actively publishing in Lawrence on May 21, 1856. That day the town was visited by between 450 and 600 armed proslavery men. They were under the command of United States Marshal Israel B. Donaldson to support him in serving warrants on several Free State residents of Lawrence. Those warrants were the most recent fruit of a dispute dating back fourteen months to the first territorial election in Kansas on March 30, 1855. That was to be the day when the residents of the territory would choose the members of the territorial legislature who would write the laws of the territory and the constitution by which Kansas would be admitted to the Union as a state. On Election Day, thousands of proslavery Missourians crossed over into Kansas Territory, took over polling places, prevented Free State residents from voting, and although not residents of Kansas themselves, voted in the election, sometimes more than once. After the ballot boxes were secured, the Missourians went back across the border to their homes. With around 2700 legal residents of Kansas Territory on Election Day, there were over 6000 votes cast. Proslavery men won all but two seats. The Free State men cried foul, and Territorial Governor Wilson Shannon set new elections in some of the precincts. The proslavery men in the territory boycotted that election, and only Free State men were elected. There were then a number of districts that had two different men, one proslavery and one Free State, elected for the same seat in the legislature. Governor Shannon appointed a commission to decide who would be allowed to take office in these districts. Every member of the commission was proslavery, so it should have been no surprise that they decided that the second election was invalid, and that the results of the March 30th election would stand. When the territorial legislature first met, there was only one Free State man seated. His proslavery colleagues advised him on the first day that it would be much healthier for him if he did not come back for a second day. He took the hint, and never returned, thereby making the Kansas Territorial Legislature all proslavery. Known to the Free Staters as the "Bogus Legislature," they began enacting extremely harsh proslavery laws and prepared to write a proslavery constitution for the future state of Kansas. The Free State men refused to accept what they saw as an illegal election and began organizing their own Free State government. The Federal government did not accept the legitimacy of the Free State government, and viewed any participants as potential traitors. Many of them lived in Lawrence, and so it was often accused of being an insurrectionist town. One of the laws passed by the "Bogus Legislature" provided that any person who wrote, printed, or published "any denial of the right of persons to hold slaves in this Territory," would be subject to imprisonment at hard labor for not less than two years. The law, known to Free Staters as the "Gag Law," took effect on September, 15, 1855. On that day, the Kansas Tribune carried an article titled "The Day of Our Enslavement!!" It denounced the Legislature, and purposely violated the law by quoting word-for-word the very language that the law banned. Tensions increased between the proslavery authorities and the citizens of Lawrence. An abortive attempt by the proslavery faction to suppress and punish Lawrence for its Free State activities that became known as the "Wakarusa War" was made in late November and early December 1855. For a time Lawrence was besieged by upwards of 2000 proslavery men from Missouri, but a peace treaty brokered by Governor Shannon allowed the situation to defuse until the following spring. The trouble ignited again when Marshal Donaldson brought his posse into Lawrence on May 21, 1856. After serving the warrants on the Free State men, the Marshal left town, and Douglas County Sheriff Sam Jones, a proslavery advocate, took command of the "posse." He said that he had a warrant from the Federal Court to suppress the insurrection in Lawrence. Jones and his men began systematically sacking the town. They fired on the Free State Hotel with a cannon, eventually burning it to the ground. They then turned their attention to the Herald of Freedom and the Kansas Free State, wrecking their offices and throwing the newspapers' lead type into the Kansas River. They were punishing the publishers for printing what they saw as Free State propaganda, and for violating the territorial law that banned writing against slavery. It was obvious to everyone that the First Amendment did not exist for Free Staters in Kansas. The Free State men recovered the lead type from the river, and melted it down to form cannon balls. On August 16, 1856, Free State men attacked a fortified stronghold of the proslavery men know as Fort Titus. They used a cannon known as "Old Sacramento" to fire cannon balls made from the recovered lead type at the stronghold, proclaiming that they were sending them a new edition of the Herald of Freedom. After a lapse of several months, the Herald of Freedom began publishing again, and continued until 1859, but the Kansas Free State never recovered and ceased publication. The territorial election held in 1857 resulted in a Free State majority, and the new legislature quickly repealed the "Gag Law."

(From: Kansas Territorial Newspapers, Kansas Historical Society website; Slavery, KansasBogusLegislature.org website; and, The Battle of Fort Titus, Historic Lecompton website. Published 5/14.)  Back to top of page

June 5, 1856 - Jacob Cantrell is kidnapped by proslavery men on his way home to Palmyra in Douglas County, Kansas Territory - Jacob Cantrell was born in 1820 in either Kentucky or Tennessee(1), to William and Mary Cantrell. By 1847, Jacob was living in Jackson County, Missouri, where he married Thirza(2) Land on October 31st that year. It is not known how long he had lived there prior to his marriage(3), but future events make it likely that he had been in Missouri for some time. In December 1848, Thirza gave birth to a daughter that the couple named Mary Jane. In September of 1850, the three were living in the household of a Perry Shoemaker in Sni-A-Bar Township in Jackson County. Cantrell was likely working as a hired hand on the Shoemaker farm. Later that year Thirza gave birth to a second child, a boy they named Hiram. Sometime after Hiram's birth, tragedy struck the family when Thirza died. Cantrell then married Rebecca Stacey on August 8, 1852. A year later, a son, Joshua Louis, was born. Another son, William, was born, but apparently did not survive long. His birth and death dates are unknown. In 1854, Cantrell was living in Blue Township, near Independence in Jackson County on the farm of a slave owner named Otho Hall, and was engaged in hauling produce from Missouri to Lawrence, a town in the new Territory of Kansas some 50 miles to the west. Kansas had been opened up for white settlement in May of that year, and would quickly become a battleground over the issue of slavery in the United States. Partisans on both sides of the issue were contending to decide whether Kansas would enter the Union as a free state or a slave state, and this would be the cause for increasing violence in the Territory. Lawrence was the headquarters of the Free State movement in Kansas, and soon became the object of hatred by proslavery men. Anyone associated with the town quickly drew their wrath. In 1855, Cantrell brought his family into Kansas, and built a small log cabin south of Palmyra, in southern Douglas County(4). Years later, Mary Jane wrote that the cabin "had neither floor nor door. Only an opening for the door and at night the wolves would come in and we could hear them sniffing around. Then Father would make a noise and they would run out." Cantrell was apparently still making the trip between Jackson County, Missouri, and Lawrence, and had painted "Kansas a Free State" in big black letters on the canvas cover of his wagon. On one trip he encountered his former landlord Otho Hall. Upon seeing the lettering on Cantrell's wagon, Hall took a knife and began cutting the letters out. Cantrell's family was accompanying him on this trip, and Mary Jane recounted that "I was sitting there in the wagon and saw the knife cutting through." Hall then turned on Cantrell, threatened his life, and struck at him with the knife, wounding him severely. Cantrell was unarmed, and called out for help to two neighbors of Hall's who were standing nearby. They ignored his pleas, and in desperation, Cantrell started his team and drove them off as fast as he could. He brought Hall before the court in Independence on a charge of assault with intent to kill. The two men who had witnessed the attack and who had done nothing to help Cantrell swore that Hall was drunk at the time, and he was released by the court. According to Mary Jane, her father was told that "they would kill him if it took them twenty years." In the spring of 1856, the trouble over the question of slavery in Kansas increased, and Cantrell and his other Free State neighbors banded together for mutual protection. Mary Jane wrote that proslavery men "hunted him many times. He slept in the woods … [and f]or months they … would ride up from Missouri in the night to see if they could catch him …." On June 2, 1856, Cantrell joined in the fight in the Battle of Black Jack on the side of a Free State militia that was led by the abolitionist John Brown. After three hours of intense fighting, Henry Clay Pate, the leader of the proslavery militia, capitulated, and his men were taken prisoner by the Free State men. Cantrell recognized some of the prisoners as having been neighbors of his, asked that they not be treated harshly, and even provided them with provisions. The Free State men first took their prisoners three miles west to Prairie City, a small Free State settlement along the Santa Fe Trail not far from Palmyra, and negotiated surrender terms and a prisoner exchange. John Brown's men then moved their prisoners approximately eight miles southwest to land owned by John Tecumseh Jones, known as "Ottawa" or "Tauy" Jones, a friend and supporter of John Brown, and camped there until the prisoner exchange that had been agreed upon could be carried out(5). The timing of subsequent events makes it appear that Cantrell either did not accompany the Free State men and their prisoners on their journey south, or if he did accompany them, that he soon left to go home(6). Territorial Governor Wilson Shannon heard what had happened at Black Jack and that the prisoners had been moved to Tauy Jones' land. He ordered Colonel Edwin Sumner to take a force of dragoons from Fort Leavenworth, proceed to the Free State camp on Jones' land, free the prisoners, and disband all militias in the area. Proslavery men had also got wind of Pate's predicament, and a force of around 300 of them under the command of "General" John Wilkins Whitfield had come into the area. They had made camp near Palmyra, with the intent of going south to attack the Free State men and free their prisoners. The dragoons arrived at John Brown's camp on June 5th. Sumner informed John Brown of his orders, and at first, Brown argued with the Colonel. After some intense negotiations, Brown acquiesced to Sumner's demands and released Pate and his men. Following the Pottawatomie Massacre committed on the night of May 24th-25th, Pate had been appointed as a deputy United States Marshal to "get Old Brown", and as soon as he was released, he tried to get Sumner to help him arrest Brown, which Sumner refused to do. Sumner ordered Pate and his men to return to Missouri, and to not cause any trouble on their way back. Pate and his men left, and made their way to Prairie City. They intended to take the Santa Fe Trail, known locally as the Santa Fe Road, and at least look as if they were going back to Missouri. As they approached the town, they encountered Cantrell and two of his neighbors, Leonard Snyder and W.H. Stillwell, near Prairie City. Cantrell had gone there to purchase butter for his family, and was on his way home, accompanied by the two men, when they ran into the proslavery men, who compelled the trio to go with them. They first went to Cantrell's house, and upon arriving, told his wife Rebecca that they would not hurt her husband, but that they just wanted to talk with him. Cantrell told his anxious wife not to be alarmed, that these men had been his neighbors and would not harm him. He attempted to give Rebecca the butter he had purchased, but one of the proslavery men took it, saying they would need it for their supper. The men then left, taking Cantrell with them, but leaving Stillwell behind(7). He went immediately to where the dragoons had set up camp near Palmyra and told Colonel Sumner about what had happened. Sumner told Stillwell that his troops were tired, and that he had ordered the proslavery men to commit no outrages on their way back to Missouri, so he was certain that Cantrell would not be harmed. He promised to send out a detachment the next day, June 6th, to retrieve him. As they moved east, Pate's men joined up with the proslavery men under Whitfield, who had been intercepted by Sumner and who had also been ordered back to Missouri by him. They too had taken some Free State men prisoner, and Cantrell was added to them. The men left Douglas County and stopped to camp at Bull Creek(8), approximately 10 miles east of Palmyra in Johnson County. Instead of protecting him, his former neighbors accused Cantrell of being a traitor to Missouri. They organized a kangaroo court, put him on trial for treason, and found him guilty. An article in the Herald of Freedom newspaper gives an account of what happened on June 6th, as observed by a man known as Judge Butt, a former resident of Jackson County, Missouri, who was serving under a Colonel Coffee(9) in Whitfield's "army." Butt had known Cantrell from when he lived there. According to Butt, Cantrell was lying on his back on the ground, his hands tied, guarded by four men with a good sized crowd around him. One of the men, who apparently knew Cantrell, approached him saying, "Mr. Cantrell, I am sorry to find you among our enemies and fighting your old neighbors." Cantrell supposedly responded, "Your clan invade my home." The other man continued, "Will you join us against the abolitionists if you could get your freedom? If we release you will you join your old neighbors to assist in driving these damned fanatics from our border?" Cantrell replied, "No Never." The other man said, "Then you will die, by God!" Butt went to Pate and Whitfield and told them to use their authority to prevent the killing. They both replied that they had no authority to do so. Cantrell was taken to a ravine and stood up next to a tree. He was shot, and cried out "My God," or "Oh God, I am shot." He was shot a second time, and screamed in terror. He was shot a third time, and died(10). His killers buried him in a shallow grave. Instead of them all going back to Missouri as Sumner had ordered, the proslavery men formed two separate forces, one under Whitfield that headed for Westport, Missouri, and the other under Pate and John William Reid, that moved south to the Free State town of Osawatomie, which they pillaged the next day, June 7th. After hearing nothing from her husband for several days, Rebecca asked the military to find him. It is not clear if Sumner had already sent out the detachment of troops to locate Cantrell as he had promised Stillwell on the 5th, or if he sent them in response to Rebecca's pleadings, but either way, troops came across the site of the proslavery men's camp and discovered the grave of Cantrell. Wolves had been able to dig up his body from its shallow grave and eat it, so all they found were his scattered bones. They reburied them near the creek, marking the grave with a stake inscribed "Jacob Cantrell." It was reported that when Sumner was informed of Cantrell's fate, he was heard to say "that he could never forgive himself." Rebecca and the children were left with no means of support but the kindness of neighbors. She decided she could not care for all of the children, so she gave up Mary Jane and Hiram, the issue of Cantrell's first marriage, to J.W. Hague, a Methodist Episcopal minister living a few miles from Lawrence, who took them in and made "a good and Godly home" for them. The violence in Kansas Territory continued for the rest of the summer of 1856, and was a major factor in the coming Civil War. Mary Jane, Hiram, and their half-brother Joshua all married and raised families of their own. What happened to Rebecca is unknown. A Herald of Freedom article alluded to "measures…being taken to remove the remains of Mr. C[antrell]., hither(11), and to erect over them a suitable monument.", but as far as can be determined, this was never accomplished, and the site of Jacob Cantrell's grave is lost to history.

(1) There is confusion as to where Cantrell was actually born. An entry in the 1850 Census records Cantrell's birthplace as Tennessee, an article in the October 24, 1857, edition of the Herald of Freedom newspaper gives his birthplace as Jackson County, Missouri, the entries in the 1900 United States Census for his daughter Mary Jane and his son Hiram record Cantrell's birthplace as Kentucky, and the entry in the 1920 Census for his son Joshua records Cantrell's birthplace as Tennessee. A genealogy website lists his birthplace as Tennessee. The reference in the newspaper to a Missouri birthplace was simply a mistake by the publisher, but lacking more definitive evidence, his actual birthplace, Kentucky or Tennessee, cannot be determined at this time.

(2) Her name is recorded in the 1850 Census as what appears to be "Thusey" or "Thersey", either of which could be how the census taker spelled what he thought Cantrell was saying.

(3) An entry on a genealogy website provides information on where and when Cantrell's brother and sisters were born, which give an indication of the location and movement of the family. The validity of the information on this website entry is unknown. The entry notes a brother Alfred being born in 1823 in Missouri. It notes three sisters, Sarah "Sallie", born in 1825 in the Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, Oklahoma, an unnamed girl born in 1827 in Missouri, and Elizabeth, born in 1837 in the Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, Oklahoma. There was no Oklahoma at this time, so the genealogist has apparently added the modern name of the location of the Choctaw Nation. In 1825, most Choctaw still lived in the State of Mississippi, and the majority of them were not removed from their ancestral lands until after 1830. This complicates determining if the actual location of Sarah's birth in 1825 is correct in the genealogical entry, as it may not have been on land that would eventually become the Choctaw Nation after 1830. The Choctaw did occupy land in 1837 that would eventually become Oklahoma, so the location of Elizabeth's birth there is likely correct. Assuming that the information provided by the genealogical website entry is correct, after Jacob's birth, the family moved to Missouri in time for Alfred to be born there in 1823. They did not stay there long, but moved southwest into unorganized land occupied by members of the Choctaw Nation in what would one day be Oklahoma in time for Sarah to be born there in 1825. They did not stay there long, and moved back to Missouri in time for an unnamed daughter to be born there in 1827. Sometime later, they moved back to what by that time was officially land of the Choctaw Nation in time for Elizabeth to be born there in 1837. There is no indication whether the entire family moved back to Missouri again, but assuming Jacob had accompanied them on their second move southwest, at least he came back to Missouri.

(4) The cabin was the first structure built in what would later become Baldwin City, Kansas.

(5) An article in the Herald of Freedom implies that they camped at Palmyra, but it is generally understood that they had moved the prisoners to Tauy Jones' land. It is more likely that the article's author was confusing the location of Brown's camp with the camp of John Wilkins Whitfield, who was leading around three hundred proslavery men planning to rescue Pate and his men. Whitfield was camped near Palmyra, and Sumner had forced him to disband his militia the same day as he did Brown's. Sumner had then camped his dragoons at Palmyra.

(6) The available historical documentation for the last few days of Cantrell's life contains inconsistencies. This narrative attempts to incorporate material common to both of them to relate what most likely occurred.

(7) It is not known if Snyder was also released or if he remained a prisoner along with Cantrell.

(8) There is some confusion in contemporary accounts as to the location of the camp. Most give the location as Bull Creek, but several give it as Cedar Creek. In her 1924 article, Cantrell's daughter wrote "Bull Creek or Cedar Creek." The Santa Fe Trail would have crossed Bull Creek a little over a mile northeast of where Edgerton, Kansas, now is. It would have crossed Cedar Creek approximately nine miles farther to the northeast of the Bull Creek crossing. There is nothing at either location to indicate which one was where the proslavery men would actually have camped. Other accounts that refer to the camped proslavery men are vague enough to not help in identifying which location is the correct one. Barring further information coming to light, the assumption here will be that they camped at the Bull Creek crossing.

(9) This is most likely John T. Coffee, a Greenfield, Missouri, resident who had served for a short time in 1855 with the 1st United States Cavalry Regiment at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory.

(10) An article in the Herald of Freedom reports that he was also scalped.

(11) The Herald of Freedom was published in Lawrence, so when it used the word hither, it meant bringing Cantrell's remains there.

(From: Jacob Cantrell, Our Dead Relatives website; Jacob Cantrell, 1850 U.S. Census, Sni[-A-]Bar Township, Jackson County, Missouri, 9/30/1850; Mary Tuttle, 1900 U.S. Census, Lawrence City, Ward 6, Douglas County, Kansas, 6/2/1900; Hiram Cantrell, 1900 U.S. Census, Eudora Township, Douglas County, Kansas, 6/18/1900; Joshua Cantrell, 1920 U.S. Census, 7th Ward, Kansas City, Wyandotte County, Kansas, 4/23-25/1920; Re: William Cantrell who was his father, GenForum, genealogy.com website; Otho Hall, 1860 U.S. Census, Blue Township, Jackson County, Missouri, 6/20/1860; Herald of Freedom, v. 4[3], no. 10[11], October 24, 1857, p. 1; Jacob Cantrell, Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., edited by Frank W. Blackmar, Chicago, Standard Publishing Company, 1912, p. 280; Mary Jane Cantrell Tuttle, Notable Women Ancestors, RootsWeb website; Kansas Territory - The Summer of 1856, Blueskyways website; and, A standard history of Kansas and Kansans, Vol. 1, William E. Connelley, Chicago, Lewis Publishing Company, 1918, p. 561. Published 6/14.)  Back to top of page

July 4, 1855 - Armed resistance against "Bogus" Territorial laws is proposed in Lawrence, Kansas Territory - An election to choose members of the first Territorial Legislature for the newly formed Kansas Territory was held on March 30, 1855. The Territory had been opened up to white settlement the previous year with the signing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act on May 30, 1854, and a legislature was needed to pass laws and write a constitution with which Kansas would enter the Union as a state. On Election Day, thousands of proslavery men from Missouri came into Kansas with the intension of voting. They were not residents of the Territory, but they asserted that Territorial Governor Andrew Reeder had said that voters need not be residents of Kansas, but merely needed to have a land claim there. When the Missouri men arrived at polling stations, they would claim a small parcel of land, and then proceed to vote. At many polling stations, they would not allow legal residents who supported Kansas being a state that would not allow slavery to vote in the election. Though there were approximately 2,700 legal residents of Kansas Territory, when the ballots were counted nearly 6,000 votes had been cast. Proslavery men were elected to all but two of the legislative positions. This was an important result, as the Kansas-Nebraska Act had changed how new states would be allowed to join the Union. Prior to the signing, the United States Congress had been responsible for deciding whether a new state would be a free state or one that allowed slavery. New states had usually been admitted in pairs, one slave and one free, to keep the two factions balanced in Congress. The Kansas-Nebraska Act allowed the decision over slavery to be left up to a vote of the residents of the new territories. Because of the way it was carried out, the vote on March 30, 1855, was perceived as anything but fair by the Free State supporters in Kansas, and they cried foul. Some Free State men began organizing militias to protect against what they saw as an invasion from Missouri, and commenced quiet discussions about forming an armed resistance. Hoping to head off any trouble, Governor Reeder decided to allow a new election to take place in some of the contested precincts. Most proslavery men boycotted that election, so Free State men were elected. This resulted in there being a number of seats in the new legislature to which two men, one proslavery and one Free State, had been elected. To solve this, a credentials commission was appointed to decide whom to seat. The commission was composed of proslavery men, who decided that the second election was void and that the March 30th election results should stand. Free State men were outraged by this. They felt that free elections in Kansas Territory had been hijacked, and that they had been colonized by Missouri. They immediately began referring to the Territorial Legislature as the "Bogus Legislature." Governor Reeder decided to have the legislature meet at Pawnee, a small community on the upper Kansas River approximately 125 miles from the Missouri border. Reeder did so in part hoping that holding the meeting that far into Kansas Territory would diminish the influence proslavery factions from Missouri would have on the legislature. The legislature convened at Pawnee on July 2, 1855. The first order of business was to decide who had the right to be seated as members of the legislature. The credentials commission formally announced their decision to accept only men elected at the March 30th election. On the second day, July 3rd, one of the two Free State men who had been elected in March resigned in protest of the blatant violation of a free election, and a proslavery man was appointed in his place. In addition to the two Free State legislators, other Free State men attended the session and witnessed the proceedings. Word of what was transpiring there quickly spread to Free State communities across the Territory, including Lawrence, the headquarters of the Free State movement in Kansas. The news from Pawnee confirmed the worst fears of the Free State men in Lawrence, and brought out a strong reaction at the July 4th celebration there. Between 1,500 and 2,000 people "… in Eastern and Western dress, Delaware and Shawnee Indians in picturesque garb, a heterogeneous people of many political views…" were in town that day to mark the 79th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. There were several companies of Free State militia in town. They gave an exhibition of their marching skills, and were presented a silk flag by an organization of women. A number of speeches were made, including a particularly fiery one by Charles Robinson, who would later become the first Governor of the State of Kansas. He spoke of the residents of Kansas as being slaves of Missouri and Missourians, who were tyrants, and that the freedom-loving men of the Territory should react to that tyranny the same way as their forefathers had done in 1776. They should resist it, and free themselves. The message was plain; the movement for armed resistance to the Bogus Legislature that had been secret up to that time had been made public. This did not sit well with all Free State men. Many opposed what was happening in Kansas, but did not believe that armed resistance to the laws the legislature would enact was the way to react to them. On July 5th, the legislature voted to adopt the laws of Missouri as the laws of Kansas, which included the statutes allowing slavery. On July 6th, they voted to abandon Pawnee and reconvene at the Shawnee Indian Mission, which was less than a mile from the Missouri border. Cholera had broken out at Pawnee, and the legislators could legitimately have feared for their health, but Free State men saw the move is as a blatant attempt to have the seat of government close to Missouri. In a meeting on July 11th in Lawrence, a movement to form a Free State government in Kansas to oppose the proslavery government was proposed. This, combined with the movement for armed resistance that was revealed the week earlier, threatened to cause a rift between factions of the Free State movement that could potentially doom the cause and allow Kansas to become a slave state. The actions of the Territorial Legislature after they reconvened at the Shawnee Indian Mission on July 16th did nothing to inspire hope in Free State men or lessen the tension. The Legislature proceeded to enact a series of extreme proslavery laws to add to those previously borrowed from Missouri. This became too much for the one remaining Free State legislator, who resigned on July 23rd, leaving the legislature composed entirely of proslavery men, who proceeded to do everything in their power to make Kansas a slave state. They passed many laws calculated to totally suppress all Free State activities and make slavery supreme in Kansas. Speaking or writing that "persons have not the right to hold slaves in this Territory" was made punishable by two years in prison at hard labor; printing or publishing a book or pamphlet that would produce "dangerous disaffection" among slaves was made punishable by five years in prison at hard labor; and "decoying" a slave away from his master was made punishable by death. In addition, persons opposed to slavery were disqualified as jurors and all attorneys were required to swear an oath to support the Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Fugitive Slave Law. In spite of this, many Free State men continued to support using only peaceful means to oppose the proslavery powers in the Territory. The actions of the Legislature made those that supported armed resistance even more determined, and the rift in the Free State movement threatened to become wider and more problematic. As the summer progressed, there was increased pressure to hold a convention to work out the difficulties between the Free State supporters in Kansas. A convention was called for September 5, 1855, in Big Springs, a small community on the Oregon Trail located about halfway between Lawrence and Topeka. Free State men from all over the Territory came that day, and worked out a compromise to ensure that slavery would not be allowed to get a foothold in Kansas. The majority agreed that the Bogus Legislature and the Territorial Government it represented were illegal, and that resistance to them would be "by every peaceful means." Most attendees left the convention feeling satisfied that the Free State cause would not come apart. Subsequent events would prove that the hope for the issue to be resolved by peaceful means was not fulfilled. Violence, first by proslavery men attacking Free State men, and then by Free State men defending themselves by attacking proslavery men, would soon earn the Territory the label of "Bleeding Kansas." The following year, 1856, was particularly violent, and the violence did not begin to subside until the next election for the Territorial Legislature in 1857, when a Free State majority was elected. The new legislature repealed the draconian laws passed by the Bogus Legislature, and began the work that eventually resulted in Kansas being admitted to the Union as a Free State.

(From: Report of the Committee on Credentials, Journal of the Council of the Territory of Kansas, at Their First Session, Shawnee Manual Labor School, Kansas Territory, John T. Brady, 1855, Appendix, pp. 17-21; Charles Robinson, the First Free-state Governor of Kansas, by Frank Wilson Blackmar, Twentieth Century Classics, no. 15 (November 1900), pp. 22-45; The Kansas Conflict, by Charles Robinson, Lawrence, Kansas, Journal Publishing Company, 1898, pp. 145-152; Big Springs Convention, Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc., edited by Frank W. Blackmar, Chicago, Standard Publishing Company, 1912, pp. 181-185; Missouri Statutes, KansasBogusLegislature.com website; and, Slavery, KansasBogusLegislature.com website. Published 7/14.)  Back to top of page

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